Monday, February 16, 2009

Big D and the Kids Table - Strictly Rude (2007)

For a band that put out its first self-release, Shot by Lammi, in 1997, Big D and the Kids Table has managed to stay insanely active and independent over the years. Forgoing major labels and keeping an almost legendary DIY stance, the Boston natives managed to criss-cross the country for years touring with some of the biggest names in the game while cultivating a reputation for especially hectic and rowdy shows, even for punk-ska. The 2007 Strictly Rude understandably shocked die-hard fans with its mature, sophisticated and often "chill" approach to what had been before defined as raw, aggressive and energetic. But slower tempos be damned, Big D still brings their A-game in a huge way with Strictly Rude, easily one of the best alternative albums of the decade.

The most remarkable thing about this album is just how fun it is to listen to. The songs are well written, well performed, easy to listen to and very danceable. And it's amazing that a band that has been together for almost two decades can put out a record with at least four legit anthems like "Shining On" and "Try Out Your Voice". Frontman David McWane beautifully crafts authentic, meaningful and smart lyrics and puts them out there with passion, intensity and a healthy dose of melody. Songs move effortlessly from "Joe Sixpac" topics like drinking PBR with friends and getting kicked off the subway to heavyweight themes like political activism, preaching tolerance and substance abuse. And for as much press that Strictly Rude gets for being "chill" and "laid back", Big D proves that they can still turn up the distortion when they want to with "Souped-up Vinyl" and lead-off track "Steady Riot."

I'll have to admit that I personally like the older Big D catalogue a little bit better. Their frantic pace and high energy songs that I've grown to love are definitely missed on this record. But that doesn't mean that the more grown-up Strictly Rude is any less fun to listen to. Big D’s trademark DIY sound, smart and sarcastic lyrics, and authentic local vibe all blast out of every byte on the album. When all is said and done, Strictly Rude is a much more mature and accessible record that has some damn good music on it.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Burzum - Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (1994)

Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (English translation: If The Light Takes Us) is often regarded as one of, if not the, greatest achievements in black metal history. Not only has the album been a major influence to many different bands (not just black metal), but it is also admired for depicting the black metal genre in its purest and rawest form.

To better understand Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, we must first take a brief look at the man behind it all, the infamous Varg Vikernes. Varg Vikernes, also known as Count Grishnackh, is the former bassist for black metal pioneers Mayhem. In the early nineties, Varg was convicted of arson upon numerous churches throughout Norway, most notably the Fantoft Stave, a historical building that had been around for centuries (a photograph of the church after it was destroyed was later used for the cover of Burzum's Aske EP). His most notorious crime however, was the murder of Mayhem member Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth. While his motives for the murder are still relatively unclear, Vikernes himelf claims that he was only acting in self defense and that Euronymous planned to kill him first. His conviction of the murder landed him 21 years in prison, a sentence that he is still living out to this day. And although Vikernes is a self-proclaimed Pagan and an advocate of nationalism and anti-theism, none of these sentiments directly influence the album itself.

While bands like Ulver brought a lighter, folk-influenced sound into black metal, Vikernes chose to go in the opposite direction. The first three tracks of the album are bound to be some of the most morbid and unrelenting songs you will ever hear in your life. The first track, "Det Som En Gang Var," is the backbone of the album and arguably one of the best black metal songs ever recorded. It starts off slow, setting up a dark, gloomy atmosphere that will remain for the duration of the album. Then, it continues to build in intensity until you're faced with a haunting, atmospheric, raw wall of sound and presence that does not let up until the final song of the album. Vikernes is also one of the most terrifying vocalists I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. What he lacks in technical ability, he makes up for with raw emotion. His tortured voice pretty much embodies the pure, raw emotion and feeling of black metal. The album continues in this general direction until the forth and final track, "Tomhet." "Tomhet" is the track that brings everything back down and concludes the album. Instead of invoking the same feelings of death and despair as the rest of the album, "Tomhet" creates a calm and peaceful atmosphere with its droning ambience and soothing keyboards.

The ability of Vikernes to convey so many different emotions throughout one piece of music never ceases to amaze me. On the surface of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, you'll hear some of the most brutal and despairing music ever. But below its dark and depressive shell, you're likely to discover an atmospherically beautiful album full of raw passion and emotion that has yet to be surpassed. It's certainly not for everyone, but anyone with an open mind should check this out.

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